And the Oscar Goes To . . .

The best acceptance speeches are the most gracious ones. I will be grateful if those are the only speeches actors and directors deliver at the 90th Annual Academy Awards.

I will be grateful if, instead of having to listen to my colleagues use the lectern to lecture my fellow Americans; instead of having to hear condemnations of the president, which is the cheapest way—the most sheepish way, too—to elicit applause from a crowd of intellectual sheep, who howl like wolves and dress like penguins; instead of having to wince if (or when) the host, whose many acts of charity I can attest to and whose love for his infant son is a testament of devotion, politicizes the show with partisan attacks, I hear graciousness and gratitude. I will be grateful to watch the show without having to look away when a winner uses the occasion to inveigh against the supposedly imminent destruction of the First Amendment—and the need to destroy the Second Amendment. I will be grateful if the winners exercise their freedom of speech by excising politics from their speeches.

We need a break from the fighting words of one side, even though this war is more real than rhetorical, what with the shooting of a Republican congressman and the calls to shoot to kill the president of the United States. We need the nominees and winners to do what they do best—act. We need them to act like they are modest and grateful, not mendacious and graceless. We need them to entertain us, not enrage us.

If they want to send a message, let them forgo Western Union and instead travel the Union. Let them see the country not as a sea of red to their seacoasts of blue. Let them see the country for what it is, neither a series of gated communities nor a surplus of rusted—and abandoned—factory gates, but a nation more proud than pitiful; more patriotic than prejudiced; more resilient than resentful; more determined than despondent. Let them start by taking the time to stop, to stop telling us how we should live when their lives are mostly the trifles of the rich and famous—not the troubles of millions in Middle America.

If they would stop, we might all stop to see how no one is immune from the vagaries of life. We might see how no man or woman, not even in Malibu, can cheat time or escape death. Indeed, some celebrities are all but dead on the inside; dead, not because of the evil that they do, but because of what the evil of addiction does to them. We might, then, see that the difference between the alcoholic and the addict is more a matter of money than of morals. If anything, the opioid addict—the military combat veteran battling chronic pain—has a greater claim to sympathy than the movie star who absolves his sins with absinthe (or bottles of apricot brandy).

I was that celebrity, until I saw the light of my own life almost fade to black. I am no prodigal son, but I am very lucky to have parents of such prodigious kindness. Their love sustains me—it sometimes surprises me—because it is unconditional, which is rare in a town where everything seems to have some codicil or condition. Perhaps that explains their love for each other, though they are no longer married to one another, because they have a bond stronger than any contract. They know who they are, two souls with no urge to profit themselves by trying to gain the world.

They are smart enough to know that character counts more than a character-count of bile; that posturing is a spineless pose; that it takes backbone to stand up—and speak out—when it is easier to say what others want to hear; that there is no award for decency, but there is a kingdom for the few who are good.

Maybe the princes and princesses of Hollywood will recognize that fact before they prance and preen on the red carpet. Maybe they will show some maturity by thanking moviegoers, instead of thinking of themselves as exempt from giving thanks. Maybe they will recognize, too, that their contempt is itself contemptuous; that they can say what they want, and I want all Americans to have their say, except when it comes to saying “fire” in a theater where I (please, God) draw a crowd. But there comes a time when a theater must close, because ticket prices are too high and the heights of modern culture are too low to keep filmmakers in business.

The timing may be right, but do not expect actors to use their time to concede their wrongdoing. Do not expect them to have second thoughts, when their first thought is certitude and their certainty leaves no room for doubt. Do not expect them to speak of the indivisibility of the nation, when they seek to sow division nationwide.

Now is not the time for awards. Not when show business is politics for beautiful people, whose words are as vacuous as their ideas; whose grand idea is to have ideas; whose ideals are far from ideal; whose beliefs are too hard to believe.

Now is the time for those of considerable means to show contrition—to be sorry—for mistaking the extremism of their vices as virtues in the defense of their ideology.

Use your time wisely, and avoid this waste of time.

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